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Tennessee's neighboring states report first Omicron cases

TN National Guard Continues Testing at Nissan Stadium
Tennessee National Guard
Staff Sgt. Timothy Cordeiro
Pfc. Kathryn Ratliff works at the Nissan Stadium COVID-19 testing site in downtown Nashville in late August.

It’s just a matter of time before Tennessee confirms its first Omicron case. As of Monday afternoon, three bordering states have identified cases of the new COVID variant.

First it was Missouri, which shares a small border with West Tennessee. The case was identified in St. Louis.

Then, over the weekend, Georgia found a case in Metro Atlanta.

And now Mississippi has identified an Omicron case.

If Omicron behaves anything like the Delta variant, it may spread through adjacent communities.

“Logic would tell us that people who live closer to those states may have a higher likelihood of having those variants first,” Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s health commissioner, said during a briefing on Monday.

The Delta variant started in Memphis, and worked its way east over several weeks, ultimately leading to a surge that stressed hospital capacity in Tennessee even more than the spike of cases last winter.

It’s still unclear whether Omicron creates the same kind of severe disease. Right now, state officials say hospitals are prepared to handle it. While they have experienced a recent uptick in COVID patients, capacity is not a problem at the moment.

In recent weeks, northeast Tennessee has seen more cases and hospitalizations than the rest of the state. Health officials say they can’t explain why that would be, but genetic sequencing hasn’t found that Omicron is to blame at this point.

Blake Farmer is Nashville Public Radio's senior health care reporter. In a partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, Blake covers health in Tennessee and the health care industry in the Nashville area for local and national audiences.
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